How To Have Difficult Conversations (Even If You Hate Conflict)

What should you really be worried about?

Last updated on Mar 02, 2023

How to have difficult conversations Ground Picture / Shutterstock

Are you worried about having difficult conversations because you are afraid to be misunderstood? Maybe the people in your life don't communicate as well as you, and it makes tough discussions even harder to have.

If this is the case, there will be a struggle because your view is already negative as you feel you are not heard.

Perhaps you've been dreading bringing up a topic for some time or ignoring it altogether, hoping it goes away. You may even feel resentful and worry it's affecting your relationship with that person.


It sounds like the first thing you need to do is clear the path to having the talk by challenging your assumptions and previously drawn conclusions.

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There are a few skills to help lead a conversation that can encourage someone who struggles with communication.


7 tips to help you have difficult conversations.

1. Get clear about what you want to say and achieve before you begin.

Be confident in knowing what you want to say and the outcome you desire.

Before starting what you have labeled as a "difficult" conversation with anyone, you’ve got some prep work to do. To ensure you understand your own assumption, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the history of the topic?
  • How is it a problem?
  • How would solving it make things better for both of you?

Also, give some thought to whether it's possible that this conversation seems difficult because you're not discussing the real or larger issue. Are you choosing the “thing” that happened this time rather than the “dance” that happens every time? If the dance is happening, then it's possible this pattern is actually affecting your thoughts, feelings, and interactions with others, and that is what you need to talk about.

Maybe the “right” topic to discuss is how to change how you talk to one another so that you can talk about anything at any time.


With awareness, you may recognize your focus has been cultivating negative energy. As a result, your thoughts are seeded with worry, assumption, judgments, and the subconscious need to be right while addressing the wrong topics like the thing that just happened, the thing that happened before, and the thing that might happen.

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2. Set an appropriate time and place.

Knowing what you want to say is vital, but having the right environment as the backdrop is just as important. A neutral space is best. Having a tough conversation in the environment that you're in most can be overwhelming and bring reminders of the misunderstanding.

Ask that person out for breakfast or lunch, or invite them on a walk in a space filled with nature — all still give a sense of privacy with the necessary change of scenery.


3. Ground yourself.

Ground yourself before you begin the talk so that you can stay calm and avoid becoming frustrated by their communication style.

4. Remain positive and supportive.

Use positive and supportive language to encourage them to talk.

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5. Ask questions.

Be curious and ask questions to evoke the sharing of their thoughts and opinions.

6. Be open minded.

Be open to receiving and discussing any differences of thoughts and opinions.

7. Focus.

Stay focused on the purpose of the conversation and on finding a solution.

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Keep in mind that it may be you who is the poor communicator, not your partner.

Once you understand your assumptions and judgments of the issue, challenge your assumptions and judgments about other people's ability to communicate well.

You may not like the idea, but what if it’s not others that struggle with communication? What if you're the one struggling with this difficult conversation?

This may be hard to hear, but remember, you want to solve a problem. In fact, you've identified an issue worthy of a conversation that you believe will be difficult to have with someone who doesn’t communicate well. So, leave no stone unturned.

Ask yourself, "What if I make it difficult for them to talk to me?"


The reason I ask you to look in the mirror is that this comes up frequently. A pattern emerges in all of your relationships — personal, professional, family, or romantic — in the form of a communication “dance.” And, no, the issues do not get resolved in this tango.

One person leads, and the other follows — to simply get through it. The lead complains that the follower doesn’t communicate well; the follower complains that the lead is just complaining about something, doesn’t really want to discuss anything, and has a need to be “right.”

So, they dance not to fight. And so, the pattern of complain, submit, complaint louder, submit, frustration, acceptance continues until one waltzes out of the room.

The complainer says they can’t continue — it’s exhausting. The follower says they have learned just to go along to stop the music.


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Could this be the case in your life? Let’s go back to the beginning of the “difficult" conversation. If you are in a dance like something I’ve described, how might you be making it hard on yourself and those around you?

First, is it difficult for you because you're worrying about it? If you have already labeled it “difficult” and labeled others as having an “inability” to communicate, that means you're already worrying and expecting it not to go well.


What tone and posture might you be bringing before you ever start speaking? What signals are you sending? In other words, how well are you communicating?

You don't have to keep up with difficult conversations; you can change this.

But when you focus on the actual dance and invite that person to a conversation from a posture of positivity, a tone of compassion, and an intention of sincerity, you can turn a perceived difficulty into an opportunity to understand better and grow your relationships.

And if you really worry that you can't do this alone, then don't be afraid to seek out therapy.

You can do this. You can still take the lead; just change the music, which will change the dance. You’ll like what you see in the mirror.


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Ann Papayoti, PCC, is an author, speaker, educator, and coach. She helps people untangle from their past and heal their hearts.